ALGIERS – Algeria’s parliament named on Tuesday the head of the upper house as the country’s new interim president after ailing octogenarian leader Abdelaziz Bouteflika stepped down.
Bouteflika submitted his resignation last Tuesday, yielding to pressure from the military and weeks of nationwide protests against his 20-year rule.
Both houses of parliament convened earlier in the day to declare the vacancy of the post of the president and appoint Abdelkader Bensaleh to run the North African nation for a 90-day transitional period, in line with the constitution.
The Bouteflika loyalist was appointed speaker of the Council of the Nation in 2002, three years after the country’s ousted 82-year-old leader came to power.
Since then, he had remained faithful to Bouteflika and his family.
Bensalah, 76, backed Bouteflika’s bid for a fifth term in office, a candidacy that sparked massive protests on Feb. 22.
The proposal of accepting Bouteflika’s resignation and appointing Bensalah as interim president passed with the votes of the National Liberation Front party, which has ruled Algeria since it won independence from France in 1962, and the National Democratic Rally.
Meanwhile, Algeria’s opposition parties, with Islamist Movement of Society for Peace (MSP) at the helm, lacked the power to stop the process.
Under the constitution, Bensalah is to serve as interim president for a maximum of 90 days to pave the way for fresh presidential elections, in which he cannot run.
As soon as Bensalah was appointed, thousands of students gathered around the Grand Post square in Algiers in a protest that was suppressed by the police.
Anti-riot forces used tear gas and cordoned off the area for the first time since March 1 to halt the student march.
The protesters demanded the complete downfall of the political system.
They see newly-appointed Prime Minister Nouredine Bedoui, Constitutional Council chair Tayeb Belaiz, and Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ahmed Gaïd Salah as part of Bouteflika’s old system and demand they step down.
Bensaleh does not have the support of demonstrators either given his historical tendency to side with Bouteflika’s top brass.
Bouteflika’s resignation came as a surprise because he had been expected to leave office closer to April 28, the last day of his fourth term.
The 82-year-old, who had been in office since 1999, suffered a stroke in 2013 and is rarely seen in public.
The upsurge of opposition to the president began with protests at soccer matches before spilling onto the streets of the capital and then spreading to other cities.
Though students spearheaded the mobilization, they were later joined by medical professionals, lawyers, judges and even members of the political class.